Following the introduction of two Concurrent Resolutions in the Mississippi Senate by Senator Gray Tollison calling for a constitutional amendment and changes in the Mississippi Code that would eliminate the state IHL Board and provide for governance of our state’s eight universities by separate boards, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Giles Ward issued the following statement: “The events of recent days wherein the IHL Board of Trustees has announced that it would not renew the contract of Chancellor Dan Jones at the University of Mississippi has generated a tremendous amount of press as well as highly-charged emotions from many across our state and nation. This is understandable as the love and admiration of our state universities begin at early ages and last lifetimes. On a personal note, I know and have the utmost respect for Chancellor Jones. However, I have not been made aware of the circumstances surrounding and leading up to the IHL Board’s decision and it would be presumptuous of me to become personally involved or to even offer an opinion in this matter and I will refrain from doing so. However, that does not relieve me of my legislative responsibilities.
“Senator Tollison’s two Concurrent Resolutions have been referred by the Lt. Governor’s office to the Rules Committee which I chair by virtue of my position as President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. We are in the final days of the 2015 Legislative Session and the deadline for introducing proposed general bills and constitutional amendments such as that introduced by Senator Tollison was January 19. That deadline is in place to allow for sufficient time to consider and debate proposals to consider the very serious proposition of changing our general laws and, perhaps more important, our constitution. At a very minimum, proper deliberation of this proposed legislation would require hearings allowing all of our eight institutions of higher learning the opportunity to address the Rules Committee to offer input into the potential positive and negatives of such a proposal. Likewise, the IHL Board should also have the opportunity to provide input to the Senate.”
Ward continued, “In the few days remaining in the 2015 Regular Session, the Legislature must finalize our $6 billion budget, determine the amount of additional bonded indebtedness the state should assume for one time projects as well as reaching final agreement on well over 100 other bills that have been sent to conference. In my opinion there is insufficient time remaining in this year’s session to properly consider these two proposals and give them an informed hearing by both chambers of the Legislature.
“The events of the past week can certainly be the impetus for considering such changes during a future convening of the Legislature. Hopefully, any such proposals would be timely filed prior to the important and necessary deadlines established in our Joint Rules so that lawmakers would have the benefit of an informed debate on such proposals. It concerns me greatly that rushing this through the Legislature in our waning hours might well be an egregious error. These are extremely important proposals and they deserve and require utmost diligence on the part of the Legislature in the deliberative process. Consequently, at this time I do not intend to call the measures off the Rules agenda.”
Joint Statement from Senators Giles Ward and Gray Tollison
Senator Gray Tollison, who authored the two resolutions, offered the following statement in response to Senator Ward’s comments. “As a member of the Rules Committee, I certainly understand the concern of the Chairman and cannot disagree with those concerns relating to the limited time remaining in the session. This is a complicated issue requiring that our constitution be changed. I cannot and will not fault him for his decision. Make no mistake however. I am passionate about seeing corrective measures taken to address what I believe has been a disservice to one of this state’s most esteemed public servants who has served one of our state’s outstanding institutions with distinction. Hopefully the introduction of these resolutions will mark the beginning of a process of positive change. I am taking responsibility for seeing this matter is addressed in a responsible manner to prevent such from happening again at this or any other of our fine universities.”